Back again, three of BTI’s writers tackle three questions from around the NHL in ‘The Friday Three’
Las Vegas Golden Knights
September and the hockey season are looming. Just typing that sentence gets me excited. For a handful of fan bases though, the fact that training camps open in just a few weeks makes them a little nervous.
There is still a very talented list of RFA’s who are still sitting without contracts for the upcoming season, and today I’m going to focus on the defensemen who might not have contracts by the time training camp opens.
Every year in the NHL there is a handful of teams who really have no hope of competing, and most of the time that’s by design. The teams will obviously never admit that they’re tanking, but instead, say that they’re focused on getting younger and giving ice time to their “next generation”. The best example of this was when the New York Rangers wrote a letter to their fans this past season:
I’ll get to the Eastern Conference in a second, but for now, I want to focus on the Western Conference where it appears that there are as many as 15 organizations who are coming into this season with a “playoffs or bust” mentality.
Notice that I used the word “organization” instead of “teams”. Obviously, the players in the room are going out trying to win every single night, but it isn’t that hard to see which organizations are more focused on the future, than the upcoming season.
Let’s start with the teams who made the playoffs last year:
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: They led the West with 117 points last season and there’s no doubt that they’re going for it. With over $7 million in cap space, I could even see David Poile make another move before the season starts.
WINNIPEG JETS: Yes, they lost Paul Stastny, but the rest of their young core is still in-tact. They didn’t make any big additions, but it’s more-or-less the same roster that delivered last years 114 point season. It’s clear what their intentions this year are.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS: The biggest surprise in sports last year went out this offseason and brought in Paul Stastny and Nick Holden. They lost David Perron and James Neal, but they still have decent depth on the wings. It still sounds weird to say, but anything less than the playoffs for Vegas would be disappointing.
MINNESOTA WILD: With a new GM at the helm, I was expecting big changes to the Wild’s roster this summer. That didn’t happen. It’s still the same team that finished fourth in the West last season. If they don’t make it this year? Then we could be looking at a roster overhaul.
ANAHEIM DUCKS: Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are only getting older but they do have some really nice young pieces who could take steps forward this year. They’ll be leaning on the likes of Rakell, Montour, Silfverberg, Kase, and Ritchie more than ever this year, but it’s obvious that the organization has playoff expectations.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: They missed out on John Tavares, but locked up Evander Kane and brought back Joe Thornton. Playoffs have been the standard in San Jose for close to a decade, that isn’t changing this year. With only 5 forwards under contract for 2019-20 though, a disappointing year could lead to some big changes.
LOS ANGELES KINGS: All three California teams are in similar spots. While they all have some nice young pieces, their cores are aging. LA is another example of that. Their window is closing, and with the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk, it’s clear that they won’t be satisfied with anything less than a playoff berth.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: The Avalanche didn’t get a lot of attention for their breakthrough 17-18 campaign and that’s mainly because everyone was too busy gushing over the Golden Knights. They squealed thanks to a win in game 82 over St. Louis and had a good offseason as well. With a new goalie (Grubauer), some added depth (Cole and Calvert), and a young core that should take another step forward, it’s easy to see why the Avs have their sights set on taking another step forward.
So those were the eight teams that made the playoffs last year, and it should be no surprise that they all expect to be right back in the big dance this season. The West gets interesting when you start looking at the teams that missed the playoffs last season. Almost every team that missed out last year, is in “playoffs or bust” mode.
ST.LOUIS BLUES: After dealing Paul Stastny at last years deadline, there were reports that Doug Armstrong was making close to everyone available. Instead of selling off in the summer, he bought into his current core. They gave their forward core a facelift by adding Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon, and David Perron. If the playoffs don’t happen this year, jobs will most likely be lost.
DALLAS STARS: Many thought the Stars would be a juggernaut last season after they had added Martin Hanzal and Alex Radulov. They missed the playoffs last year and you’d imagine that a second straight miss for a team with the amount of skill that the Stars have, someone will have to pay the price.
CALGARY FLAMES: Glen Gulutzan and Brian Burke got the ax after the team underperformed last year, only winning 37 games. They made a big splash acquiring Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm in exchange for Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland. They also signed James Neal, which should give their offense a much-needed boost. Goaltending still worries me, but there incredibly improved and should be right there in terms of the playoff picture.
EDMONTON OILERS: No playoffs this year will likely mean the end for both Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan. They didn’t do a lot to improve their team this summer, instead, they’ll be relying on some bounce-back performances and better special teams. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, they just need to live up to their potential. There isn’t an organization with more on the line than Edmonton.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Did I say no one has more on the line than Edmonton? I lied. After missing the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade, there were rumours that the Hawks would be making huge changes. They have a core that appears to be getting close to its expiration date, and they didn’t do a lot to change that this summer. Still, they have a tonne of skill and they know how to win. A healthy Corey Crawford will go a long way to helping them rebound, but if the Hawks miss this season, it could lead to the dismantling of a dynasty.
ARIZONA COYOTES: Clayton Keller is going to be a superstar, Oliver Ekman-Larsson already is, and Antti Raanta was one of the best goalies in the league once the calendar flipped to 2018. The pieces are there in Arizona, and it might sound surprising, but this is a team that could shock a lot of people in 18-19. When they say their goal is to make the playoffs, you better believe they mean it.
That’s 15 teams who will be playoff contenders. Only eight will get in and that means seven teams will be mightily disappointed. Now you might be thinking “well there are 16 teams in the Western Conference. What do you mean only seven will be disappointed?”.
Well, that brings me to the Vancouver Canucks. Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat are fantastic young players. Quintin Hughes will be one day as well, and I’m very high on Jonathan Dahlin and Elias Pettersson as well. The bottom line is that they will not be remotely good enough for the playoffs this year. Coming dead last and getting the first overall pick would be fantastic for this organization and I’m pretty sure they recognize that, even if they won’t admit it publicly.
The West is clearly jam packed and it should make for a fantastic 2018-19 NHL season.
Day 41 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs saw the Vegas Golden Knights host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Yes, that’s right. An expansion team is hosting Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Here’s how the game played out:
Las Vegas Golden Knights 6-4 Washington Capitals
Las Vegas leads the series 1-0
Before the game even started Las Vegas had the hockey world talking with their pregame ceremony, which included an Excalibur like intro and ended with Michael Buffer announcing the starting lineup for both teams.
Best player intros ever? Best player intros ever.
— NHL (@NHL) May 29, 2018
Let’s skip the theatrics and get right into the hockey game though. The first 10 minutes of the first period was all Vegas as they were out-shooting the Capitals 9-1 halfway through. Andre Burakovsky took a boarding penalty against Cody Eakin 5:53 into the first period putting the Golden Knights on the powerplay.
At 7:15 of the first period Colin Miller blasts one home.
— NHL (@NHL) May 29, 2018
Washington seemed to find their footing after that though and dominated the second half of the first period for the most part.
Brett Connolly deflects one home 14:41 into the first period.
— NHL (@NHL) May 29, 2018
Nicklas Backstrom would go on to take the lead for Washington 15:23 into the first frame. Two goals in 42 seconds put Washington up by one.
William Karlsson 18:19 into the first period would find the puck off an end board bounce, knock it off of Braden Holtby’s shoulder and tie the game up at 2’s.
The goal scoring didn’t stop in the 2nd period as Reilly Smith would find the back of the net 3:21 in.
— NHL (@NHL) May 29, 2018
6 minutes later (8:29 into the 2nd period) to be precise John Carlson and T.J. Oshie would combine for a beautiful passing play tying the game up at 3’s.
— NHL (@NHL) May 29, 2018
We’d skate that way through the remainder of the 2nd period, and both teams would enter the 3rd tied at 3.
Early in the 3rd period (1:10), the Capitals would take the lead on a Tom Wilson deflection.
Only to have the lead shortly extinguished by none other than Ryan Reaves.
Ryan Reaves scores to tie it up 4-4 pic.twitter.com/FeK6aFxLKI
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) May 29, 2018
The eventual game-winning goal would be by Vegas’s fourth line again who simply dominated this game, Tomas Nosek 9:44 into the 3rd period.
— NHL (@NHL) May 29, 2018
We’d get into some controversy in the third period by who else? Tom Wilson who was a little bit late on finishing his check.
Another look at Wilson’s hit on Marchessault pic.twitter.com/f7CxFarqEf
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 29, 2018
Vegas would end up icing the game off with an empty-netter and take game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals 6-4 over the Washington Capitals.
Who would’ve thought that both goalies would let up 4 or more goals in this game after how well they’ve both played.
One thing for sure, this series is going to be a long, exciting series that will hopefully go the distance.
Vegas out-shot the Capitals 34-28, while the Capitals would outhit the Golden Knights 38-25.
Game 2: Goes Wednesday at 8 PM EST from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Day 35 had less scoring than most nights this postseason but wasn’t without excitement as Vegas held onto a back and forth dog fight to take a 3-1 series lead. Behind the usual all-star performance by their goaltender, the Golden Knights outfought the Jets in Game 4 to fall within one win of the Stanley Cup Final.
Here’s how it went down:
Winnipeg 2-3 Las Vegas
Las Vegas leads series 3-1
— NHL (@NHL) May 19, 2018
After dropping two in a row to the Golden Knights the Winnipeg Jets hoped to find a way to solve what has been a more than stellar Marc-Andre Fleury and tie the series at two before heading back to Manitoba for Game 5.
However, Vegas had other plans and would be the first team to strike less than three minutes into the game. One minute and 50 seconds into the first period Tyler Myers took a bad interference penalty, cross-checking Ryan Carpenter with the puck nowhere near him.
On the powerplay the Golden Knights would score 30 seconds into the man-advantage. Jonathan Marchessault sent a pass through the slot to William Karlsson on the other side, who one-timed his sixth of the playoffs for a 1-0 lead.
The Jets would even the score in the second period. On the powerplay, the first unit for Winnipeg went to work and after missing on a one-time shot, Patrik Laine got a second chance and made sure he capitalized.
Blake Wheeler sent a pass to Dustin Byfuglien, who quickly sent it to Laine to the right of Fleury. Laine blasted a one-timer past the Vegas net minder before he had a chance to read the play to tie the game at one.
The tie didn’t last long as Vegas quickly took the lead. After a dump-in, Tomas Nosek buried his first of the playoffs, a wrap-around attempt to the right of Connor Hellebuyck 42 seconds after the Laine goal.
Winnipeg however, would tie the game in the third period. With Vegas on a change, Tyler Myers shot the puck between the five-hole of Fleury, although no one noticed. The entire building thought the Knights’ goaltender had the puck in his pads, when it had hit the back of the net and back to the netminder for a 2-2 tie.
— NHL (@NHL) May 19, 2018
Reilly Smith has spent the playoffs setting his teammates up. With seven minutes left in the game he became the hero. After Byfuglien fanned on a one-timer from the blue-line, Smith took off with the puck up the wing and held patient with Josh Morrissey closing in. Smith sniped a shot over the shoulder of Hellebuyck for a 3-2 lead.
It’s a party inside
It’s a party outside pic.twitter.com/ZlLMqUF1Cg
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 19, 2018
The Vegas Golden Knights did just enough to solidify the victory and a 3-1 series lead heading back to Winnipeg. Marc-Andre Fleury quietly did what he’s been doing all postseason. Dominate. Fleury stopped 36 of 38 shots from the Jets.
JiGame 5 takes place Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. MT from Bell MTS Place.
Second Round Recap
The Golden Knights continued their magical inaugural season with a six-game series win over the San Jose Sharks. While the Jets moved past the Presidents Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in a hard fought seven game series, advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history.
Six seasons removed from making history as the first #8 seed to win the Stanley Cup, the L.A. Kings are in the record books once again. However, this year it’s for their unfortunate demise at the hands of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights, as the Kings failed to pick up a single win in their first-round series and become the first team to be swept by an expansion franchise. While only allowing seven goals all series, the squad from Los Angeles only found the scoresheet three times in the four-game sweep. Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was made to look like the second coming of a sturdily-built brick wall or a Shooter Tutor with no holes; he was simply unbeatable. The Kings popgun offence looked atrocious throughout the series, with only four forwards able to scratch the scoresheet.
The offense finally slowed down on day seven of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with goaltenders stealing the show. Connor Hellebuyck led the Jets to a 2-0 victory, the Capitals getting back into their series and the Knights became the first expansion team to win a playoff series.
Here’s how it went down:
Previously I looked at the Eastern Conference and previewed the playoff picture. Now it’s time to look at the other side and preview what to expect from the Western Conference. The West is set up with talented teams mixed with veteran groups that have been to the dance before. There are only two teams that I see as favourites to make it all the way, but there’s always a chance for an upset, especially when there are more experienced teams. Here’s a preview of the Western Conference playoffs.
What percentage chance would you give the Oilers of making the playoffs?
Well, as it sits right now, they are five points back of San Jose for the final playoff spot which doesn’t seem impossible. But look at little deeper at it and you’ll see that they need to jump over five other teams to get to the Sharks and they’ve played the same or more games than every single one of those teams.
Now it’s early, but the season creeps up on you and if they don’t start making up ground in a hurry then they can kiss another playoff appearance goodbye.
These next three games against Boston, Buffalo, and Arizona are huge. Those are three teams you should beat if you’re a playoff caliber club. For right now, I’d say they have a 15% chance of making the playoffs, but if they win these next three games, I would up that to 35%, which might be a little generous. The bottom line: they need a damn winning streak.
Who has a better chance of making the playoffs: Vegas or Vancouver?
Vegas currently sits atop the surprisingly awful Pacific Division with just 27 points while Vancouver is holding onto a wild card spot with 22 points.
Both teams are very well coached and are very committed to playing strong defensive games and just suffocating the opposition to some extent.
Vancouver might have more skill, but their goaltending concerns me and I’m not sure how long this young core can continue to produce the way they have. Vegas, on the other hand, has managed to continue to stockpile points with no NHL caliber goaltender. When Fleury or Subban come back, it might be enough to keep them competitive. For that reason alone, I’ll give Vegas a better chance to make the playoffs but I don’t think we’ll see either make it in all likelihood.
Would you be in favor of going to ten minutes of 3-on-3 overtime to kill the shootout?
Absolutely! Tell me one positive about the shootout that 3-on-3 OT does not bring? It showcasing individual skill but doesn’t completely take out the team aspect and it’s way more exciting. I would take it a step further and say just eliminate the clock. Go 3-on-3 until someone scores!
I still have a bit of a soft spot for the shootout and it’s better than settling for a tie, but it doesn’t give fans nearly the same thrill as 3-on-3.